Charles Glaser is the latest in a long line of authors at Foreign Affairs to advocate that everything would be a-ok, if only the US sells out Taiwan, in an article asking Will China's Rise Lead to War? Sometimes it seems like a hamster could get published in Foreign Affairs, if only it were to argue that Taiwan should be sold to China to preserve the peace.
This genre of writing, which downplays the possibility of war along China's frontier and argues that if we make the right concessions war can be averted, has specific characteristics which will be familiar from its most recent iteration at Foreign Affairs, that train wreck from Bruce Gilley on Finlandizing Taiwan.
A key to making pieces like this work is waving that magic wand to make India disappear. I will come back to why that is so crucial in a moment. But in this article, India is mentioned only once, in the opening paragraphs. Natch.
Though there is much to take issue with here, I'm not going to explore the whole paper, but instead focus on the part involving Taiwan.
Glaser's major argument is here:
In fact, however, a more nuanced version of realism provides grounds for optimism. China's rise need not be nearly as competitive and dangerous as the standard realist argument suggests, because the structural forces driving major powers into conflict will be relatively weak. The dangers that do exist, moreover, are not the ones predicted by sweeping theories of the international system in general but instead stem from secondary disputes particular to Northeast Asia-and the security prevalent in the international system at large should make these disputes easier for the United States and China to manage. In the end, therefore, the outcome of China's rise will depend less on the pressures generated by the international system than on how well U.S. and Chinese leaders manage the situation. Conflict is not predetermined-and if the United States can adjust to the new international conditions, making some uncomfortable concessions and not exaggerating the dangers, a major clash might well be avoided.Glaser's key claims are simple: the problems between the US and China are not world-historical in nature, but merely a few trifles that are unique to the East Asian region and which can be settled amicably among realpolitik friends. By selling out our friends and their territories -- those "uncomfortable concessions" -- wholesale war can be averted. Whew! Where would we be if there was no one to betray?
Ok, I'll stop.
Here's his argument on Taiwan. After discussing the seriousness of the Chinese drive to annex Taiwan, and the military issues, he observes:
Given such risks, the United States should consider backing away from its commitment to Taiwan. This would remove the most obvious and contentious flash point between the United States and China and smooth the way for better relations between them in the decades to come. Critics of such a move argue that it would result in not only direct costs for the United States and Taiwan but indirect costs as well: Beijing would not be satisfied by such appeasement; instead, it would find its appetite whetted and make even greater demands afterward-spurred by Washington's lost credibility as a defender of its allies.The critics are wrong, however, because territorial concessions are not always bound to fail. Not all adversaries are Hitler, and when they are not, accommodation can be an effective policy tool. When an adversary has limited territorial goals, granting them can lead not to further demands but rather to satisfaction with the new status quo and a reduction of tension.The second paragraph in this excerpt is a cascade of false dichotomies and fallacies that pile into one another like terrified patrons at the exits of a burning theater. Let's look at them.
The key question, then, is whether China has limited or unlimited goals. It is true that China has disagreements with several of its neighbors, but there is actually little reason to believe that it has or will develop grand territorial ambitions in its region or beyond. Concessions on Taiwan would thus risk encouraging China to pursue more demanding policies on those issues for which the status quo is currently disputed, including the status of the offshore islands and maritime borders in the East China and South China seas. But the risks of reduced U.S. credibility for protecting allies when the status quo is crystal clear-as is the case with Japan and South Korea-should be small, especially if any change in policy on Taiwan is accompanied by countervailing measures (such as a renewed declaration of the United States' other alliance commitments, a reinforcement of U.S. forward deployed troops, and an increase in joint military exercises and technological cooperation with U.S. allies).
The key question is not "whether China has limited or unlimited goals" (how could it possibly have "unlimited goals; the Earth is finite) but what its goals are and how they affect the nations around China. In other words, at this point Glaser would have to ask a concrete question about just what territories China wants. But that question never pops up.
Good writing is concrete writing, I often tell my students. If you read the whole paper, there is little concrete about this paper -- history is not referenced -- terms like Senkakus, Diaoyutai, Spratlys, Okinawa, Arunachal Pradesh are not used. People do not exist in Taiwan -- instead only latinate euphemisms that screen the ideas they describe: accommodation, concession.
This lack of concreteness itself functions as a euphemism -- if we don't say Senkakus we don't have to think about the obvious connection between Taiwan, the Senkakus/Diaoyutai, and Okinawa (for example). If we don't say Tibet we don't have to think about how the conquest of Tibet has lead to the current claim on the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh.
It is thus easy to see that had Glaser advanced any examples to describe why he thought China might have very limited territorial goals, they would instantly have destroyed his thesis. Taiwan? Claimed only after the beginning of WWII, well, because it was there. The Senkakus? Claimed only after 1968, and related to concurrent claims to Taiwan and Okinawa. The South China Sea? The entire area is claimed by China, and it has recently intensified its claims. Any student of China's claims can easily add more -- China is on a century-long program to inflate itself out to the old Qing borders. The future will be interesting, if only to see what new claims China thinks up.
Then there is India. If Glaser had mentioned India, there is the very obvious refutation provided by Arunachal Pradesh, which is fallout from the conquest of Tibet. The world has basically acquiesced in Chinese sovereignty over Tibet -- but that did not stop Beijing from moving on claim the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on the grounds that it contains a lot of ethnic Tibetans who are "Chinese." Very clearly, selling things to China won't result in peace -- it will merely lead to further demands, as it actually has in the historical example of Tibet.
Thus, India must disappear from this kind of essay, because if it appears, it blows holes in the author's thesis.
But India's disappearance causes another problem for Glaser's thesis. In this essay he considers only the problem of feeding the Chinese monster's appetite for territory. But territory is not the only issue between China and its neighbors -- there is the problem of resources. In the China v. India case, Chinese dams on Indian rivers are basically an act of war. Nor is that only a problem for India; Chinese dams on the Mekong are also a problem for the downstream states (themselves busy damming the Mekong). In the future, the growing Chinese presence in Laos is likely to become a problem for Vietnam and Thailand too. And then there is the global fishing presence of China.....
In other words, we could have war along China's frontiers caused by events that have nothing to do with territory. Which implies that handing over territory to China won't solve the problem.
Glaser's argument that Taiwan should be sold out (which is only one section of his paper) also raises the question of what territorial concessions can be made. The Senkakus and Okinawa, the South China Sea islands, parts of India, the Korea border -- these are not places that Washington can simply "back away" from since the US doesn't own them. The US has treaty commitments to Japan, for example.
Thus, Glaser's position is contradictory: he argues that the US can avoid war by handing 23 million Taiwanese to Beijing and then beefing up its remaining alliance commitments to show we're still serious -- but in the case of Japan, that alliance is committed to defending territories Beijing covets. Not much point in selling out Taiwan to avoid war if you signal you are willing to go to war over the Senkakus and then beef up your forces in order to do just that. And having burned 23 million pro-American allies along with their armed forces, who would believe you are willing to nuke Beijing for a few rocks in the ocean?
This contradiction is the fault line through Glaser's argument about Taiwan and the US commitment to the region. It does not apply merely to Japan but to every part of the area -- the nations of the South China Sea are increasingly looking to the US for support. Do we sell Taiwan to get peace, then beef up to reassure those nations confronting China -- inserting ourselves further into another flashpoint? Say what?
Essentially, if we delete one flashpoint but get further involved in others, aren't we right back where we started -- except minus 23 million allies and their armed forces?
All this is moot. Glaser appears to be wrong -- we are headed for hegemonic war at this point, probably more than one. The coming wars perhaps can be averted, but only by beefing up all our alliances, by enhancing our military, economic, diplomatic and political presence in the region, by withdrawing from our insane war against Islam, by making a very obvious redeployment of our military toward Beijing (as Japan is now) and reducing it elsewhere, by investing in the systems necessary to sustain war in the region, especially the logistical tail and forward bases, and by advocating for democratic and humanitarian change -- and being the exemplar of such change ourselves -- until the regime in Beijing disappears from history.
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